Like Patience, Don’t Pray for Perseverance!

I’ve said before that I am better able to abstain than moderate—chocolate, cute shoes, rich coffee, television.

I’ve learned this month that building a new garden was no different. Once I started, going full-on seemed perfectly fine.

The early stages of the garden were worked with mindfulness to my arthritic spine. Then I prayed to persevere and work steady at putting down the ground cloth, bricks, and the next day all of the mulch. Even though it is a small garden, I was laid low…for days.

That prayer has been acknowledged as pure pridefulness and lack of humility. Like patience, one should pray carefully and specifically about fortitude. The lesson of ignoring moderation cost me time in bed with ice packs, doctor visits, and medication. I encourage others with physical limitations to not be as rash.

The gaining of patience is learned through trials. Gaining the grace to persevere is learned by a steady pace through difficulty, not by a bull-headed charge to the other side!

That being said, let’s get back to the garden…click through to read the firstsecond, and third work efforts on the new Marian garden.

edging joined and mowHaving laid the ground cloth, I placed the bricks in the trench with the cloth tucked underneath. This arrangement would allow the mower wheels to ride on top and eliminate the need for hand trimming. By interspersing smaller broken bricks with the full sized, a smoother curve is created. The smaller bricks also allowed the edging to be incorporated at the end of the bed with the fieldstone walkway and hill of lavender.

poetry stonesUsing a lettering kit for making stepping stones, I made a few word-bricks “Hail holy Queen, Mother of Mercy” that I added to the line.poetry stones placed

I prefer uncolored cypress mulch. Buying a load is less expensive than bagged and a lot of work to move. The standard bagged cypress is 3 cu. ft. and kind of heavy to work with. A home improvement store in my area carries 2 cu. ft. bags, still too much for me to lift but easy enough to maneuver. The clerk stacked the bags in the back of my little Ford wagon. Once home, from there I could slide them to the bumper, split the bag length wise, and roll the contents into the dump wagon. It was easy to tip the wagon up in the garden and spread the cypress.

mulchedRecommendations are that a three inch pile of mulch be laid to prevent weeds and hold moisture. Having used a ground cloth to cut down on weeds—it also prevents the cypress from touching soil and breaking down—two inches of mulch would suffice. Leave about a palm-width of cypress away from the stems/trunk of bushes.

I was fortunate enough to find an old trellis in fair condition. By mixing outdoor paint leftover from the prayer box, I was able to paint it periwinkle blue. The trellis was placed over the late summer blooming clematis, Sprinkles, that I had planted earlier. Its a Group Three Prune, being cut back hard to about 6” in early spring, and has s a lovely 4-6” wide deep pink bloom with white freckles. Mother’s blue mantle will contrast nicely with it, don’t you think?

trellis after

trellis before










With the aid of a friend, the Marian statue was loaded into the wagon and rolled from behind the tree to its new home.

The garden was completed in time for The Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary on May 31. Reflections on the journey, Mother’s and mine, will be posted in a couple of days. For now, the view from the porch is lovely.

Marian Rose Garden Complete


(All images by Margaret Rose Realy, Obl. OSB. All rights reserved.)

Mother has the Patience of a Saint

Soloman's seal and cross

Solomon’s seal and cross

Silently she stands, peering at me from around a tree as I slog my way through the project. She’s been waiting for me to complete her rose garden.

I started it the beginning of May, the month dedicated to our Holy Mother. The idea for a Marian rose garden didn’t originate with me, it was by request. The thought of attempting to garden again was a challenge to how I’ve come to see myself with physical limitations. It felt like a dare, and I usually don’t respond to those. Taking on this project would mean learning about patience and moderation so there would be minimal aches from my Mary behind treearthritic spine.

Moving forward a lot of prayers were offered as I struggled to let go of expectations. Tasks I had done in less than thirty minutes now took the better part of a day, and a day in between to recover. Prayer also supplied endurance to persevere—and needed materials.

One expectation that had to be let go was that the garden would be completed by Mother’s Day. I now hope for the end of the month, on The Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, May 31.

The next phase was to deal with the sod, and then plant the roses. I fussed for a few days on the placement of the bushes, finally deciding the order of the roses should be white/Joyful Mysteries, red/Sorrowful Mysteries, yellow/Glorious Mysteries, and last purple for the recently added Luminous Mysterious—the sorrowful being embraced on each side with joy and glory.

There is still more to do.

Next was trenching out the sod for the edging of bricks—those lovely, now clean treasures! The bricks will provide an edge for the lawn mower wheel to ride over, eliminating the need to trim the grass. edger flippedHaving learned earlier the benefit and ease of using an electric edger, I repeated the process, cutting two lines around the bed in the width of the bricks. I found the cultivating hoe was perfect for rolling up strips of sod. Over the course of a couple of days I was ready for ground cloth and mulch.

cutting edging brickscutting edging pulling strip







To lay the ground cloth, secure the material with U-shaped landscaping pins at the farthest edge and unroll to the other end, leaving about two inches extra at each end. The material will usually blow around, so I used a brick to hold a portion in place while I worked my way across the bed. Slide the cloth up onto the sod/soil and cut a line partially across the material so it will go around a bush. When you figure the cloth is far enough up, cut an X and fold the flaps under so the cloth encircles the bush. Pin the split in place and move on to the next plant. Repeat the process for the next course of ground cloth, allowing a three inch overlap on top of the previous row. Pin in place. It took three courses of material to cover my garden area.

Trim back the extra cloth allowing an extra two inches or more to lie under a flat edging; in my case, the bricks. If you are using a vertical edging you’ll leave only one inch and slide the ground cloth between the edging and the soil on the garden side.

Next week, the finishing touches.

I made poetry stones, too!

(All images by Margaret Rose Realy, Obl OSB. All rights reserved.)

Cutting the Sod, Not Killing Yourself

Mary StatueMother waits patiently in the shade as the work on her garden continues. The rose bushes were bought and the outline for the bed established several days ago.

Now to get rid of the sod. Depending on physical condition, strength and stamina, there are a few options. In my younger days, I would have spaded up the sod, knocked off the soil, and composted the remains. If you have time to wait, solar kill-off with clear plastic is another organic option (among many that will not be discussed here). Nowadays I use an herbicide.

I discovered this spring when expanding the vegetable bed about a foot, to use the electric edger. By trenching a patchwork over the sod, the smallish squares popped up easily with a tool called “The Claw.”

cutting sod with edger

Garden tool Claw


Taking my time I was able to turn the sod, lift the patch and knock the soil from the small clumps. By using a dump-wagon I didn’t have to lift a heavy pail. The remnant sod was then tossed into the hollow from the bricks.

For the rose garden I left the dead sod as a weed barrier and cut a circle through it for the bushes.

sod herbicideBefore beginning to dig establish where the elements will be placed: bushes, vine and trellis, statue. Once the items are arranged I suggest leaving the garden for a day or two, looking at the grouping at different times and different angles. How does it look from the kitchen window? The patio? From an upstairs window? Usually you’ll want to tweak the layout, and this is best done before shovel meets soil.

Smaller perennials spadeOnce satisfied with the placement, I dug the holes using a smaller spade—sometimes referred to as a perennial spade—to make the cutting through and lifting sod easier. My hands aren’t as strong as they used to be, so my tools have thicker handle grips. I really like OXO tools, and found this Japanese farmer’s knife by Fiskars easy to hold and excellent to cut away roots.Japanese farmers knife

The removed soil was easily shoveled into a low wide bucket placed to the side. With poorer soil mix it with peat moss or compost and fertilizer—I used Espoma Rose-tone food.

Note graft!

Note graft!

Same rose planted deep.

Same rose planted deep.

Research has found that burying the grafting point 3-4” below soil level allows roses to better survive areas with harsh winters. To make sure I’ve dug deep enough without disturbing the roots, I place the bush, pot and all, into the hole. For my zone, 3” below soil level is sufficient but I dig another inch deeper to add a layer of enhanced soil on the bottom.

Okay, so the hole is dug and the soil enhanced. Fill the empty hole with water; wait until it has all dissipated. Tip the bucket on its side so it will be easier to reach and pull the fertilized soil into the hole. Add an inch of soil to the bottom, gently remove the pot from the rose—either cut it off or slide it from the roots—and place the root mass in the hole. Adjust accordingly for appearance and vertical alignment. Add soil about 1/3 the way up, add a little water and wait, add another third of soil, water, and finish by creating a well with the soil at ground level.

Repeat with the other rose bushes. I was able to plant a bush every-other day.

Next, ground cloth, mulch and the finishing touches. For now, aspirin and iced tea!

All images by Margaret Rose Realy, Obl OSB. All rights reserved.

I Get My Kicks Finding Bricks

crabapple-2 Apple BlossomsI needed bricks for the Marian rose garden, and for a bird bath feature. I didn’t need a skid and to buy them each, new, well that seemed a bit expensive and silly. What with all the buildings being torn down in town I thought I could find some used, but no such luck there either. A friend’s sister owns a brick business, but she too wanted a buck-a-brick, or there about.

After nearly a month I gave up the hunt, decided instead to buy a couple bags of cement and, having colorant and steppingstone kits in the basement, would make my own. The bricks wouldn’t look as rustic and artsy, though the cost would be pennies a piece. The project would take until mid-summer to complete. I had hoped to finish the Marian garden by Mother’s Day.

Mornings are reserved for scripture, the Divine Office, and intercessory prayers and rosary. I’d finished my two cups of coffee with Christ and as I blew out the candle, looked to the Divine Mercy image and half-heartedly asked “Can you send me some bricks please? They’re for your mom.”

And I heard (well not physically heard, but you know…knew) the words, “Go dig.”

“What? Dig what? Where?” I waited. No response….

I made my breakfast and headed to the back porch. It was mid morning and the birds were singing a congregational worship in the old apple tree. A lot of birds. Twenty some years ago, when I first moved into this house, I removed a stationary glider from under its limbs because of them.

While eating breakfast I looked to the back of the yard. The two-tier wall of bricks behind the shed supported the Annabel hydrangeas. I thought of pulling down one tier for the new garden, and knew that that really wasn’t an option.

I took my dishes to the kitchen. From behind the door picked up the shed key and headed outside to do a bit more work in the future garden. Putting the gloves, basket, and spade into the wagon I planned to plant a rose bush or two.

“Go dig.”

There, again those words. I answered back, “I AM going to dig!”

I took a deep breath and stared at the stand of fiddle head ferns breaking ground under the apple tree. The birds were still boisterously rejoicing in the morning light.

Seriously…buried just below the surface, this is what I found:

bricks 1

Bricks 2








The soil was soft from the rains and the ferns had grown under and between the bricks so they were easily plucked like potatoes. I haven’t counted yet but I think there will be enough.


(Apple blossom image by pippalou, All other images by Margaret Rose Realy, OBL. OSB. All rights reserved.)


Mother of Roses

Image by vdaiga,

Image by vdaiga,

I’ve never been much for growing roses. My gardens had always been more cottage style with plants growing close together in a riot of color, texture, and form. Roses simply didn’t work in my design. Besides, there were all those thorns to contend with, and I hate getting pricked in the garden (you may have read about that annoyance in Cultivating God’s Garden through Lent).

It’s no secret that with an arthritic spine my gardening days had come to an end. I retired from coordinating the St. Francis Retreat Center Garden Society after ten-plus years working the grounds. Over the past two summers my gardens of twenty-five years were dug out by friends. Those days of kneeling on soil were over—or so I thought.

You, readers of my new book, A Catholic Gardener’s Spiritual Almanac, want pictures of my gardens. Reasonable it would seem; a garden writer with pretty gardens. Even the publisher asked.

With a yard now mostly lawn, a small shade garden in the north-west corner, and the tiniest of vegetable patches, I figured to meet your requests I would need to learn how to garden with limited abilities. I’m not going all horticultural therapy here; I’ll leave that to the professionals. I’ll be writing on and off about the techniques learned (and learning) on keeping gardening tasks simple.

My first endeavor will be a Marian rose garden that incorporates the representative colors of each mystery of the rosary. This will be a full installation, from sod to trellis and mulch, shared each step of the way. So we begin again…

Roses need lots of air movement, food, sunlight, and water. Tea roses can be tough to grow in northern climates—I’m in mid-Michigan—unless they’re Week’s Roses. These cultivars are designed to take the cold. Having worked as a grower, they were my and the customers’ favorites.

In a Marian garden themed on the rosary there are four traditional colors (newer interpretations are in the book). They are Joyful Mysteries: white, Sorrowful Mysteries: red, Glorious Mysteries: yellow and Luminous Mysteries: purple.

Yep, that's Gary Beck!

Yep, that’s Gary Beck!

Usually I recommend establishing your garden space first and then purchasing plants. Because the roses I want are specific, its spring, and Mother’s Day is just around the corner I’ll purchase them while the selection is still good. A favorite greenhouse, Beck’s Flowers in Jackson, MI (I worked there for several years) carries the brand I want.

When selecting a rose bush look for multiple sturdy stems branching from the graft, shiny leaves—depending on cultivars they can be bright green to red new growth, and of course free of disease and pests.Rose Graft

The roses I chose, besides being hardy and fragrant, were to have some symbolism with their name. The ones selected were:

White: Full Sail, hybrid tea. Mother Mary is also called The Star of the Sea, Stella Maris, and guides seafaring people—and aren’t we all—to Jesus. The Church is the ship of Christianity, from Latin, navis, and the central gathering place in a church is called the nave.

Red: Lasting Love, hybrid tea. Yeah, well this seems fairly obvious.

Yellow: Gold Medal, grandiflora. The Ark of the Covenant was pure gold, and holy. Mary was the Ark of the New Covenant, and she too was pure and holy. And then there are the Bible verses about running the race and earning the prize, so double win here!

Purple: Intrigue, floribunda. The luminous mysteries arouse our interest in the enlightening events of the Jesus’ life.

The spacing for roses depends on the type: tea, grandiflora, floribunda, shrub, miniature, groundcover or climbers. With the selections I’ve made, each bush will need a five foot span. With four rose bushes being planted, that’s a sizeable bed!

With the potted roses lined on the north side of the fence, to prevent scorching their tender greenhouse-grown leaves until hardened off, I mark off the area for Mother Mary’s new garden. Standing on the drive looking at the size of the space needed I am overwhelmed. Part of me does not want to reawaken what was loved and laid to rest—a life of working among gardens. I doubt my ability, stamina, and strength. I want to take the roses back.

I look to the small statue of Mother Mary at the back of the yard, and whisper “Hail Mary” and know she is near—she always is when we call. I tell her my heart’s still in it, though my spine is not. While waiting for peace to return, I realized that that was exactly what I needed to do—wait.

The first lesson in gardening with limitations: allow time between tasks. There is only so much energy and strength for many of us with physical or mental limitations. So, with the roses bought and hose laid out to mark the bed, I leave the backyard and head inside for tea and prayer.

St. Benedict writes in the Rule that always we begin again. And so I will, tomorrow.

The next post, preparing to dig! I must be out of my mind…

rose hose